|Marmots are the larges members of the squirrel family and occasional chewers of boot, backpack strap, hiking pole grips, and radiator hoses.|
Something unusual happened a few months ago while I was driving to my parents house after work. I had traveled about 25 miles on the freeway when my brake warning light came on. My car is only a year and a half old so I thought it was odd but probably something minor and didn't worry. A few minutes later the ABS warning light on. Then the brake system and TRAC system warning lights came on. I grew more concerned and a bit upset at the quality of my car. When I got to my exit I found I had virtually no brakes at all. It took pressing the pedal as hard as I could to get a little grip. The exit was long and there were no other cars so I was able to come to a stop safely. I drove slowly a few more miles to my parents house timing it so I didn't have to stop at the lights and coasting to a near stop before using the parking brake to stop completely. I didn't know what the problem was but I figured I could at least check the brake fluid. When I opened the hood, to my surprise there was a marmot sitting on top of the engine. The strangest part was I knew exactly what had happened. A few weeks earlier I was reading (listening actually) to Neil Peart's book "Roadshow: Landscape with Drums" in which he told of seeing cars at Kings Canyon wrapped in plastic to keep the marmots out because they like to chew on hoses and wiring in cars. The marmot jumped off the car, ran underneath it and back up behind the engine. A man driving by stopped in the middle of the road, rolled down his window and yelled "What the hell was that?" I replied "A yellow bellied marmot. It just chewed up my brake line."
I ran to tell my parents to come out and see this. I got a flash light and a stick and tried to poke the marmot thinking it would get out of my car. It just bit onto the stick and played tug-o-war with with me. I then got the hose and a spray nozzle and began blasting it with water. It still would not leave it's hiding spot behind my engine. It was soaked, scared, pretty unhappy and began to chirp. The neighbors came out to see what all the commotion was about. They were snapping pictures and took turns playing tug-o-war with the wet rodent.
I resorted to calling the local animal control officer to come help. The officer said she gets 2 to 3 calls a month for marmots being in peoples cars. She added they usually just run away when confronted and she didn't know what to do about this angry little critter. So she called another officer who was good with animals. When he arrived and looked over the situation he said there was nothing he could do because he didn't think I would want him to pepper spay it or shoot it since it was in my car. He was right. He said leave it alone and maybe it will run off when there was no one around.
I drove the car over to a nearby church parking lot where it was quiet and no one was around. I then borrowed my parents car and got some brake fluid. When I came back I wasn't sure if the marmot was there or not but I thought I would drive back to my parents to survey the damage. As I was leaving the parking lot very slowly I felt a bump. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a wet marmot shuffling across the parking lot and into some bushes. Even though I was mad at the marmot, I felt bad that I ran it over and hoped it wasn't hurt too bad.
The brake fluid spilled onto the ground as fast as I poured it in. The brake line was split wide open, held together by just a thread. I could see it also chewed up a grounding strap on top of the engine. Fortunately that was all the damage. However, it did cost me $500 to have it towed and repaired and it was in the shop about a week waiting for parts.
I still can't figure out where I picked up this marmot. It certainly was in my car when I left work that day. I don't believe there are marmots living near where I work. Did it get a ride to work in someone else's car then switch rides? Did it get into my car a day or two earlier and ride around with me without causing any trouble? Guess I'll never know. Now every time I hear a strange noise in the car I wonder if there's a marmot under the hood.
Each spring and early summer, the marmots of Mineral King have been known to dine on rare delicacies. Their fare includes radiator hoses and car wiring! Like bears, jays and ground squirrels, marmots have not only become accustomed to visitors, they have learned that people are a source of food.
In the parking areas some marmots feast on car hoses and wires. They can actually disable a vehicle. On several occasions, marmots have not escaped the engine compartment quickly enough and unsuspecting drivers have given them rides to other parts of the parks; several have ridden as far as southern California!
The whole thing sounds ridiculous, but it's true. If you visit Mineral King, especially during the spring, check under you hood before driving away. Let the rangers know whether or not your vehicle has been damaged. And don't forget, marmots also love to feast on boots, backpack straps, and other salty things such as the grips of hiking poles.